From Paul McCartney to American Idol – Interview with violinist Joel Derouin
Cornwall, Ontario – Joel Derouin, who was born in Cornwall, Ontario would become one of the most accomplished violinists in the world. His music credits are extensive: He’s done violin work for Paul McCartney, Michael Jackson, Elton John, The Black Eyed Peas, Christina Aguilera, and Mariah Carey. He toured with Eric Clapton, Rush, and Sheryl Crow. He played both the Grammy Awards and MTV Unplugged with Alanis Morrisette. His violin work was heard backing Pink when she sang the national anthem at the 2018 Super Bowl.
Joel Derouin was also concertmaster of the television show American Idol. His movie music credits include Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, the 2009 Star Trek reboot, Austin Powers, Finding Dory, Up, Cars, and Ice Age; while his television music credits include The Simpsons, Family Guy, and American Dad. He’s also played Broadway, and his music was heard at Cirque du Soleil. This only begins to scratch the surface of a stunningly successful music career spanning over 40 years.
Joel Derouin is a family guy (pun intended). His wife Narda is a licensed marriage and family therapist, and they have two daughters named Carmen and Camille.
The journey of Joel Derouin from New York to Los Angeles started right here in Cornwall Ontario. He began playing the violin at just four years old. He was taught by violinist Rosemonde Laberge who founded the Riverdale School of Music. Notable graduates from the Riverdale School of Music include Angela Rudden, Gisèle Dalbec-Szczesniak, and Thérèse Motard.
“I started playing the violin when I was four. One of my parent’s best friends, a lady by the name of Rosemonde Laberge was a violinist. After my parents got me a violin, she started giving me violin lessons. I was her first student, and she went on to become a very acclaimed music teacher here in Cornwall. She developed the Riverdale School of Music in Cornwall, and many of her students have had successful music careers – as teachers, as performers, and symphony orchestra players,” Derouin noted.
“I went to La Citadelle, St. Lawrence High School, and I finished my secondary school studies at General Vanier. I went to three different high schools because they accommodated my schedule traveling to Montreal a lot. My last year, at General Vanier, I was able to finish in December, and that gave me time to finish my studies at Le Conservatoire de Musique du Quebec in Montreal,” Derouin added.
While attending Le Conservatoire de Musique du Quebec Joel Derouin studied with Otto Joachim, and later while attending Julliard in New York, he studied with Dorothy Delay. Both were accomplished teachers and musicians. Otto Joachim was honoured as a Knight of the National Order of Quebec, while Dorothy Delay received the National Medal of Arts.
“From my experience, I got the most out of the violin teachers. I studied with Otto Joachim at Le Conservatoire. I was studying with him about once a week since I was a teenager. When I finished at General Vanier, I was able to go full time at Le Conservatoire and get my diploma there studying with him. The next logical step was to go and study with Dorothy Delay at Julliard in New York. With instrumental music, especially violinists, you gravitate towards the school that has the teacher that will fit your needs as a player. You want to study with a certain teacher, so you go to the school they’re at. In my case, New York was a real benefit,” Derouin reflected.
Living in New York in the 1970s was also an important experience for Joel Derouin. Besides going to school there, he also got to experience a renaissance in music and culture blooming in New York at that time. Furthermore, he had a successful audition with supergroup Emerson, Lake & Palmer. This was a foreshadowing of the music career he would come to have.
“Not only did I have the experience of studying with one of the great violin teachers, but I had the experience of living in New York City in the 1970s which was a whole experience. It gave me a great base as a player to learn and to be in that environment. Living in New York, I was able to explore other styles and other aspects. The 70s was a great era for music, and I was able to go and see live bands that were real influences. It was that time when living in New York that I got the opportunity to audition for Emerson, Lake & Palmer in 1977 to go on their North American tour. I would never have had those experiences and opportunities if I hadn’t lived in New York City,” Derouin reminisced.
One of the biggest highlights of Joel Derouin’s music career was working in a session with Paul McCartney and then getting a photo with the former singer and bassist of The Beatles. Joel Derouin was a part of the string quartet along with David Campbell, Matt Funes, and Larry Corbett for the song “Your Loving Flame” on the 2001 Paul McCartney album titled Driving Rain.
Joel Derouin got the call from David Campbell, a legendary music composer, and conductor, who has worked on approximately 500 platinum and gold albums.
“I got a call from David Campbell who is an incredible string arranger, and he is Beck’s father, the artist Beck. I worked a lot for David. We did a lot of the string charts that you hear in rock and roll in the 90s and early 2000’s. Songs like “Uninvited” by Alanis Morrisette, “Iris” by the Goo Goo Dolls, a lot of rock and roll records that had strings. We played with a lot of artists, and David was the person to hire because he was able to write these great string charts that matched the rock and roll,” Derouin stated.
“He called me to do a Paul McCartney session. I was excited; I had never worked for him yet. I’ve worked with him several times since. I’m not the kind of person to be forceful about taking photos; I always respect the artist and their privacy. I did have a camera in the violin case, in case a photo op came up. We played the song “Your Loving Flame,” it was a Beatle-esque song with a string quartet. He came in, he was lovely, very great to work with and very personable as expected. After the session was over, he came in and thanked us. The second engineer came in and said, Paul do you mind if I take a photo with you, and he said of course not. All of us had cameras in our violin cases. All a sudden all the cameras came out, and we started shooting some great shots. It was a fun opportunity. That was my first foray into the Paul McCartney world,” Derouin recalled.
Typically, the artist is in the studio for the recording of the strings, artist like with Barbra Streisand.
“Most of the time the musicians are there. There are very few times in my experience where I worked for an artist, and they weren’t there. Typically, they want to be there, like with Barbra Streisand, I’ve never done a session where she wasn’t there. She’s really involved, very hands-on, and she’s meticulous. Artists like that want to be there to put the strings on their record,” Derouin replied.
However, sometimes the artist can’t be there because of a scheduling conflict. For example, Pink was on tour, and could not be there for the pre-recording of the track for the national anthem she performed at the 2018 Super Bowl.
“A lot of the time it’s a schedule thing, they have a deadline where the producer has to deliver the album at a certain time, and maybe the artist is on tour. But it’s rare the artist isn’t there. An instance where they were not is when I recorded the track for the national anthem with Pink for the beginning of the Super Bowl, and we had to deliver the track before the Super Bowl, and she couldn’t be there, so we added the string to the track without her,” Derouin explained.
Joel Derouin’s violin can also be heard on the 2004 Elton John album Peachtree Road.
“Elton John is very hands on. Speaking of Elton John, I worked a lot with Paul Buckmaster who was the string arranger who did a lot of the old Elton John records that had these great string charts. Elton John was a real pioneer in using strings in rock and roll. Unfortunately, Paul Buckmaster passed away in November. I got to do a lot of records with Paul Buckmaster. We did a lot of songs that the strings were a real signature on,” Derouin mentioned.
On top of that, he did a Paul Buckmaster arrangement with Train for the smash hit song “Drops of Jupiter” which has been played nearly 150 million times on YouTube. This international hit song won a Grammy Award for Best Rock Song in 2002.
Also, Joel Derouin worked on the album Dangerous by Michael Jackson. Other notable artists Joel Derouin recorded with include Kelly Clarkson, Dixie Chicks, Carrie Underwood, Ricky Martin, Neil Young, Rod Stewart, Michael Bublé, Ray Charles, The Stone Temple Pilots, Beck, Linkin Park, Hootie and the Blowfish, Queen Latifah, Lisa Marie Presley, Meatloaf, Barenaked Ladies, Limp Bizkit, Avril Lavigne, Hanson, Counting Crows, Jimmy Eat World, Nelly Furtado, Shakira, 3 Doors Down, and Leonard Cohen just to name a few more.
Joel Derouin has also toured with Eric Clapton, Sheryl Crow, and Rush.
“It seems I tour every seven years, and the only circumstances that will make me go on the road is the artist. In 1998 I toured with Eric Clapton, in 2005 I toured with Sheryl Crow, and in 2012 I toured with Rush. I can’t tour for 2 or 3 years at a time. The tours I went on were always 2-3 months, then some time off, and then another couple of months. It was the artist and the quality of the tour management that made me want to tour. I couldn’t turn down Rush, because I grew up here, and I was a big Rush fan. I thought that was a great opportunity for me, and it was. The music is great. David Campbell wrote all the string arrangements for that tour. I couldn’t miss out on that opportunity,” Derouin said.
Joel Derouin also played The Grammy Awards on several occasions, but his most notable performance was with legendary Canadian singer-songwriter Alanis Morisette.
“The Grammy’s was a lot of fun. I’ve done quite a few of those. The most notable was when I played “Uninvited” with Alanis Morissette. Again, that was one of the epic David Campbell arrangements. That’s when the Grammy’s were done out of The Shrine Auditorium before they moved over to The Staples Center. Everything was more intimate. It was shot really well, and I think it was a great moment in TV rock and roll,” Derouin remarked.
Joel Derouin has performed at The Oscars, The Tonight Show, Saturday Night Live, Dancing with Stars, and The X Factor. He’s also played live on television with bands like No Doubt and Limp Bizkit. Live television is his favourite medium to play. He was concertmaster of the television program American Idol for six seasons from 2004 to 2010.
“You’re asking really good questions. TV is a great medium, and live TV is my favourite job if you can call it that. It has the elements of live performance, with the live audience feedback, and you get that adrenaline. One of my favourite jobs was when I was concertmaster of American Idol. That was one of the most fun jobs for me because at any given time you had to go out and perform with one of the artists on stage, and everything was live, a lot of it was improvised, and just before the show there could be a key change – you had all that stuff to deal with. That kind of energy and stimulus is a lot of fun for me,” Derouin explained.
American Idol judge Simon Cowell once referred to Joel Derouin as “the weird violin player.”
“Yes, it was Simon that called me the weird violin player. I was playing with one of the contestants, Brooke White. I guess he wasn’t too thrilled about the arrangement and called me the weird violin player. That didn’t thrill my dad very much; he so happened to be in the audience that night. I told him, don’t worry about it, that’s probably the best publicity I ever got. He was still upset at the time. I was walking down the hall, and Randy Jackson gave me a high five and said something like, hey man, he put you on the map. All publicity is good publicity,” Derouin recalled.
Additionally, Joel Derouin has left his mark on television and movies-, especially animation.
“I started doing music animation at Warner Bros shortly after moving to Los Angeles. I did the complete series of Animaniacs and Pinky and the Brain. I think I did every episode of those two cartoon series. Those were just great written shows. The music was written by Richard Stone who was a big fan of all the old Warner Bros cartoons like Bugs Bunny written by composer Carl Stalling. I got a lot of experience doing music for animation. There is non-stop music in those cartoons, and it has to match every cut, every shot on screen, and it’s very difficult to write for,” Derouin answered.
“I still do Family Guy, American Dad, and The Simpsons, and they have great music writers too. Walter Murphy writes music for American Dad and Family Guy, and I think it brings a tremendous amount to the show. Most people don’t even notice the music, but if you turn the sound down on the TV, it’s not the same, the music adds so much to it. It’s fifty percent of the experience in my opinion,” Derouin added.
Joel Derouin has also done music for Disney and Pixar animated movies.
“As far as the Pixar movies, I’ve worked with Randy Newman and Michael Giacchino. It’s the quality of the music writing that brings those movies to life. The directors of the movies always come on the podium at the end of the music sessions, and always very grateful to the musicians for bringing their films to life. Many have said it’s their favourite part of the process, or at least they claim,” Derouin said.
Despite never seeing the limelight, Joel Derouin has had a successful and gratifying music career.
“What I do is very gratifying. We don’t usually get the recognition or notoriety, but that’s okay. All the fame and notoriety come with other issues, and I’d rather stay out of the limelight. There is a nice balance between what I do performing live, and it’s a comfortable lifestyle,” Derouin pointed out.
Joel Derouin has a cottage near Cornwall and comes to visit here annually. He also played Cornwall one summer. In 2010, he played Lift-off with an all-star band The Hendrix Project opening for Randy Bachman of The Guess Who.
“It was a very fun experience for me. I’ve been to a few Lift-Offs. I have a cottage on Hamilton Island, so my family and I would go to Lift-off. I thought I should put something together, that it would be a fun opportunity for me to play here, and to hire some musicians. Some musicians are from the area, and I brought one musician in from New York. We put this thing together and had some fun in front of the hometown crowd,” Derouin said.
“I always listened to Jimi Hendrix growing up, and I was intrigued by all the sounds he got out of his guitar, and I knew it was possible to get those sounds out of a violin. I played in bands here in high school, and when I electrified my violin, it enabled me to get that ear-piercing sound, that signature Jimi Hendrix sound that only he got,” Derouin added.
His cottage has become a space where he can write and pre-produce music.
“Times have changed, and with technology now you can write and pre-produce music anywhere. I can work here (at the cottage) with pre-production tools and write. Regarding a full-blown studio, there is nothing that beats the original and authentic recording studio with all the great sounds and equipment,” Derouin noted.
What’s next for Joel Derouin?
“I’m here till the second week of August, and I’m on the third season of America Has Talent. I got on board with that show when Simon returned to the show. The show was done in New York when Howard Stern was on it. When Simon came back, the show returned to Los Angeles. We do all the music at Capitol Studios, so I’m going back to do that. The TV season starts again in September. I’m not sure what’s on the horizon for Motion Pictures this year, but something will come up, and hopefully I’ll be playing on some fun movies again this year,” Derouin concluded.
Special thanks to Allan McGimpsey for helping to set up the interview.